New research

Carbon Briefing: how energy demand could drink up global water resources

  • 23 Apr 2014, 13:30
  • Robin Webster

Increasing energy demand is set to put pressure on the world's water resources over the coming decades, according to a number of new expert studies. Even if the world shifts away from fossil fuels and toward cleaner power supplies, growing demand could help put water supplies under severe strain by the middle of the century.  

From cooling down power plants and extracting, transporting and processing fuels to growing crops used as biofuels, energy production relies on water. Altogether, the sector accounts for 15 per cent of water withdrawals around the world, according to the International Energy Agency (IEA). Only agriculture is more water-hungry.

Yet demand is going up - just as growing populations and climate change put the world water supplies under  even more pressure. Working out where water supplies for energy will come from in future is one of the "great challenges of our generation," the  World Resources Institute says.

Changing threats to water supplies 

Water resources are already stretched. Groundwater extraction has  tripled in the last 50 years in response to rising demand. Some underwater stores are now reaching "critically low levels", according to the latest edition of the  UN World Water Development Report, released in March.

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Tackling global warming could slow global growth - by 0.06 per cent, IPCC predicts

  • 16 Apr 2014, 14:00
  • Mat Hope

Economists and policymakers have spent decades debating how much the world will have to pay to avoid the worst impacts of climate change, and whether it's worth the cost. A key finding in the UN's latest big climate report should help move that debate along: tackling climate change could slow economic growth by just 0.06 per cent a year, it says.

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) released the third instalment of its review of latest climate change research last Sunday. While the first two instalments aimed to better define the climate change problem, the third report focuses on potential solutions - from ramping up wind and solar power, to halting deforestation.

But governments don't just want to know what they must do to avoid the worst impacts of climate change, they also want to know how much it will cost. So the IPCC's latest report spells out the choice: governments either pay a bit to curb emissions now, or risk much larger costs in the future.

Or, as IPCC co-chair Ottmar Edenhofer put it during the report's launch, "Climate policy isn't a free lunch but could be lunch [that's] worthwhile to buy".

Taking action is relatively cheap

In 1992, countries agreed they would curb emissions to prevent temperatures rising by more than two degrees above pre-industrial levels. 22 years on, after more than two decades of increasing emissions, that goal looks ever more ambitious.

So it may come as a surprise to find that the IPCC says the cost of keeping the pledge may be relatively low.

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From RCP to WG3: A climate change acronym cheat sheet

  • 15 Apr 2014, 11:15
  • Mat Hope

Know your AFOLU from your LULUCF? The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change has made great efforts to  cut the "weirdo words" and put its big climate reports into terms everyone can understand. But that hasn't stopped it from occasionally befuddling readers with a range of complex acronyms.

We decode some of the most common.

Organisations

IPCC - Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change
The IPCC is an international group of scientists set up in 1988 under the auspices of the United Nations. It doesn't do any of its own research, but aims "to provide the world with a clear scientific view on the current state of knowledge" about climate change through a series of reports released every six or seven years.

UNFCCC - United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change
In 1992, hundreds of heads of state signed up to the UNFCCC. Under the convention, countries aim to "stabilize greenhouse gas concentrations in the atmosphere at a level that would prevent dangerous anthropogenic [human-induced] interference with the climate system."

Reports

AR1/2/3/4/5 - Assessment Reports 1, 2, 3, 4 and 5
The IPCC has so far produced five reports reviewing the latest climate change research. The most recent - AR5 - is due to be released in its entirety before the end of April 2014.

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